It's probably my southern Italian roots, but I'm a huge, huge sucker for rum-soaked sweets. (Southern Italian roots or nascent alcoholism. Eh. Wash.) I love the brown sugar and caramel notes and the whisper of an alcoholic bite. I love that rum desserts usually involve dried fruits, and that they're like a digestif and dessert all in one.
Christmas is the obvious time for these sweets to shine; the time of year when I can get people who are normally adverse to this type of thing to indulge with me because they're generally indulging in everything in sight. Technically though, this cake has its roots in the land without sweater weather: the Caribbean. Rum cakes like this are huge down there, for the obvious reason that the Caribbean produces (literal) boat loads of rum.
This cake is a hybrid of my Christmas rum cake and a Caribbean rum cake. In deference to the former, there are walnuts and dates, to the latter, coconut and dark rum. The cake is moist and over the top with vanilla flavor. That flavor comes from vanilla extract, rum, and instant vanilla pudding mix (more on that below.) It's got a sweet, chewy coconut-walnut topping and pieces of chopped date throughout the crumb. This, really, could be enough. But true rum cakes require rum sauce, which is why you douse the whole thing in a rum-butter sauce until it's so boozy that I'd hesitate to serve it before noon.
A few notes. First, be sure to grease the bottom of the bundt pan before adding the walnuts and coconut or else they will simply be ripped off when you try to get the baked cake out of the pan. (What does "liberally grease" really mean? You could use cooking spray, or do what I do, which is to pour some vegetable oil onto a paper towel and run it along the inside of the pan. You want it well greased but don't leave any pockets of oil. Bleck.)
Second: yes, this recipe uses instant vanilla pudding mix and no, I'm not ashamed. Instant vanilla pudding mix is a secret flavor bomb, adding that homemade vanilla birthday cake flavor to things that...aren't homemade vanilla birthday cake. Sometimes you have to do it the old school (but not old-old school) way. I did spring for the organic mix , because it had ingredients that I could actually pronounce.
At the end of the day, this is a strongly flavored cake with a strong bite of booze. In other words, exactly how I like it.
About the author: Carrie Vasios Mullins is the editor of Serious Eats: Sweets. She likes to peruse her large collection of cookbooks while eating jam from the jar. You can follow her on Twitter @carrievasios